Issue of the Week: Bird Flu Threatens Wild and Domestic Birds in Western States

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In December 2014, a rare, highly pathogenic avian flu strain was first detected in a poultry flock near Winston, Oregon, which infected wild and domestic birds.  This avian flu is identified as H5N8 and has been confirmed in eight backyard poultry flocks and three captive wild birds across Oregon, Washington and Idaho.  A commercial turkey farm in California has also been infected.

According to the Oregon Department of Agriculture, a flock of about 90 chickens, ducks, turkeys and other domestic birds have had access to ponds that are frequented by migratory wild waterfowl, which may be responsible for spreading the disease.

This news becomes more alarming as spring migration season looms closer. From April to June, many bird species migrate north to take advantage of emerging insect populations, budding plants and nesting locations in higher latitudes. Wild birds carrying the virus have the potential to further spread H5N8 while travelling up their flyways to the summer grounds. Birdwatchers and biologists should be on the lookout for signs of the flu this spring.

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Federal researchers are working with hunters to test ducks and geese for avian flu. Samples were taken from about 100 birds shot by hunters on the Columbia and Snake rivers, a major resting and feeding area for waterfowl migrating on the Pacific Flyway.

Bird flu spreads quickly by direct bird-to-bird contact, but can also be carried by manure, tools, equipment, vehicles, clothing, and shoes. It is important for hunters and outdoor enthusiasts to be cautious if they encounter infected birds and for those with domestic flocks to secure their flocks from contact.

Currently, there is no major health threat to humans and the virus does not seem to be transmittable to other non-avian animals. SCI Foundation will continue to monitor the situation as it develops.

For information on how to handle dead birds in the wild click here: http://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/health_program/avian-flu/index.asp

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